Starved and chained, tourism elephants may die in large numbers as coronavirus outbreak destroys industry

Many fear that due to the crisis, elephants will be used in illegal logging or for begging


                            Starved and chained, tourism elephants may die in large numbers as coronavirus outbreak destroys industry
(Getty Images)
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The condition of the elephants in Thailand is getting worse by the day as they are underfed and are being kept chained for hours amid the coronavirus outbreak. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Asian country’s tourism sector has been hit, leading to the vulnerability of the animals.

Many experts have warned that elephants working in Thailand’s tourism industry may die due to hunger, be sold to zoos or shifted into the illegal logging trade as the global health crisis decimates visitor numbers. Experts also fear that due to the crisis, elephants will be used in illegal logging along the Thai-Myanmar border, which was banned 30 years ago after introducing a law safeguarding the animals.

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According to an AFP report, even before the pandemic, life for the kingdom's estimated 2,000 elephants working in tourism was not very pleasant as they were often abused into giving rides and performing tricks at money-spinning animal shows. After the coronavirus outbreak, it has worsened as the health crisis has paralyzed the tourism sector. The animals' caretakers are unable to pay for their maintenance, including the 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of food a day a captive elephant needs to survive.

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“My boss is doing what he can but we have no money,” said Kosin, a mahout or elephant handler, of the Chiang Mai camp where his elephant Ekkasit is living on a restricted diet. He added that the financial meltdown is restricting the fibrous food available to the elephants “which will have a physical effect”. Chiang Mai is the northern tourist hub of Thailand, an area of rolling hills dotted by elephant camps and sanctuaries.

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It has also been reported that the wages of the mahouts who look after the elephants have dropped by 70 percent.

Theerapat Trungprakan, president of the Thai Elephant Alliance Association, fears that due to the crisis, elephants “could be forced (to beg) on the streets”, if not used for logging.

Saengduean Chailert, who owns the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand, said due to the loss of income, the number of malnourished elephants is rising, taking the situation ‘to a crisis point’. Her sanctuary shelters around 80 pachyderms and allows visitors only to watch the creatures.

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Chailert has organized a fund to feed starved elephants and help mahouts in almost 50 camps nationwide in the wake of the outbreak. Reports also claimed that people are urging the government to fund stricken camps to ensure the welfare of elephants.

Apichet Duangdee, who runs the Elephant Rescue Park, said: “We need 1,000 baht a day (about $30.86) for each elephant.” “I will not abandon them,” Duangdee added as he plans to take out a two million baht ($60486) loan soon to keep his elephants fed.

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According to Johns Hopkins University, positive cases of COVID-19 have reached 1,651 in Thailand with 10 deaths as of March 31.

Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn is also taking precautions amid the crisis as he has reportedly booked an entire luxury hotel in southern Germany where he has taken his entire entourage, including a harem of 20 concubines with him to self-isolate. The king, who is also known as Rama X, has reportedly hired out all of the Grand Hotel Sonnenbichl in Bavaria to save himself and his entourage from being infected by the deadly virus, which has claimed 38,714 lives worldwide.

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